Become a Leather Tanner

By Eric Hammer

Leather JacketFlicker Photo by Jorge Correa

Jerry Seinfeld has a joke where he asks why, if a leather jacket is ruined by rain, cows aren't hurt when they stand out in the rain. The answer is that the leather jacket has been handled by a leather tanner to turn it into a fine piece of clothing rather than simply an animal pasturing out in the field. If you would like to get into this business, you can make a pretty nice living doing it.

A leather tanner takes the raw animal hide which has been harvested after the cow is slaughtered (unlike many other animals, all parts of the animal are used and cows are generally raised only for slaughter). The process is quite involved and generally requires that you understand a great deal about it. Generally, you work with a professional leather tanner as an apprentice in order to learn the business rather than going to school for it.

How Much Can You Make?

According to StateUniversity.Com, the average salary for a leather tanner is $50,000 per year.

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Remember that a leather tanner has a difficult job. It is considered to be a fairly dirty and even dangerous job since you need to work with certain dangerous chemicals to get the job done. Leather tanners also need to have an eye for detail since you are working with a rather expensive piece of material and you need to know where the damages are so that you can pick out the most important pieces of leather when you are working with it.

It's also useful to understand the various kinds of leather curing that you may engage in, including such things as creating parchment (a much more rarefied profession since there is little call to create such material today, except for very specialized purposes). Understanding such things is often a good idea, even if you don't ever intend to do it because it means that you will become a much better leather tanner than someone who doesn't understand all the ways in which a piece of cowhide can be used.

Qualifications / Requirements

Generally, you will not be able to take any kind of formal training to become a leather tanner. In most cases, you will learn the profession from a professional leather tanner who will take you under their wing and help you become a leather tanner in your own right after about a year of apprenticeship.

First Steps

Start by looking for a leather tanner who is interested in taking on an apprentice. Generally, the work will be either unpaid or pay very little because you are just learning the process of doing the job. However, once you understand the work, you can generally land a job which pays fairly well.


Check out these helpful resources to learn more about becoming a leather tanner:

State University: Leather Tanning and Finishing Worker - an excellent introduction to what it takes to become a leather tanner.

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